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Pronoun reversal

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Pronoun reversal is a language disability observed in the speech of children affected with autism. According to a description, "Pronoun reversal is when the person with autism confuses first and second person pronouns in speech. (Autism and Language: Description and Diagnosis) He will use "you" to refer to him or herself, and use "I" to refer to his or her listener. This might be a sign that children with autism fail to identify themselves as separate from the person with whom they are speaking or might just be experiencing linguistic confusion."[1]

Cynthia Kim describes pronoun reversal in her article "Echolalia: That's What She Said."

  • "Imagine I said to you “blerg ick gump?” and then gave you a delicious treat. A few hours, later you decide you want another one of those yummy things so you walk over to the spot in the kitchen where you know the yummy thing comes from and say “blerg ick gump?” You have no idea what the words mean–and you certainly don’t know that you’re supposed to transform my “blerg ick gump?” into the correctly worded “norkle ick gump?” All you know for sure is that the last time I said “blerg ick gump?” a treat materialized, so what the heck, maybe it will work again."

Pronoun reversal is more common in children, and it is likely to go away as the child's mastery of language improves.


Some probable examples of pronoun reversal may be as follows:

  • Parent: What are you eating, Johnny?
Child: He's eating bread.
  • Parent: What are you doing, Johnny?
Child: He's here.
Child: Do you want a cookie? (meaning "I want a cookie")

Helping Children with Pronoun Reversal Edit

Kim states that children can learn to use language appropriately through modeling. For example, a parent can hold out a cookie, say "I want a cookie, please," and encourage the child to repeat after him/her. With practice, the child will learn the appropriate phrase.


  1. Language Development
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